Sonny and I have been struggling a lot lately. He seems overall better inside the house. He's more relaxed with me, Roxy, and Buster. He's slowly getting more relaxed with Rob, in the sense that he'll come out of his crate when he's around, as long as Rob isn't moving or talking. He doesn't cower in his crate when Rob walks around, but he's still obviously uncomfortable and watches him like a hawk, just in case.
Outside is a different story.
Sonny's walks have been shorter lately because he seems to be becoming more fearful and anxious than he used to be. We've just been going outside for potty and back inside because he literally will potty and then drag me back inside because he doesn't want to be out there. Any noises he hears outside set him into a panic where he will lay down on his belly and try to leap-frog away, despite being attached to me by a leash. I've learned that the moment he hears a noise or see's a human, it's over. We have to go back inside, he will not go potty after that, even if the person leaves or the noise stops.
Some mornings, I'll jog him a few houses up in the, to get him some sort of exercise; but it really depends on what time we get out in the morning, how he's doing, and if there are people out there.
We went to the veterinarian on Thursday to discuss his loose stools, and after much debate and argument with the rescue Sonny is being fostered for, I was given permission to discuss the idea of medicating Sonny as part of his treatment. It has been almost 6 weeks and although there is some progress, he was definitely regressing in some areas and he was obviously suffering mentally. I went and talked to the force/aversive trainer that the rescue uses, despite my protests in using him because of the force and aversion techniques he uses. But I was told he needed to see their trainer before discussing medication. I spoke to the trainer without Sonny and explained that I thought bringing him there would be too stressful, and after telling him about Sonny's behavior, he also said it sounded like Sonny was a good candidate for medication and "the gimmick" of clicker training, even though he doesn't really like gimmicks.
(Ironic note here, I brought Roxy with me to see this guy, to get an idea of how he responds to fearful dogs in case the rescue refused to medicate him unless the trainer actually saw him. I was less concerned about her, because she's at a point where even if he went to pet her before she was ready, I could easy mark and treat her for the interaction without doing damage. Anyway, it worked out nicely, the trainer was great with her and very polite in his actions towards her, which made me feel better in general. But he was saying how clicker training was a gimmick, and he doesn't use it, but it might work for Sonny. In the same breath he was saying how wonderful Roxy was, and how well she was trained, etc... so I politely let him know that she was clicker trained, with a marker word instead of the click... he didn't know what to say. I giggled.)
Anyway, at the vet Thursday, I explained Sonny's situation, and we spent over an hour discussing his behavior, our struggles, and his overall anxiety. I explained how Sonny is too afraid to learn, that I haven't had success with any desensitization or counterconditioning, that I couldn't even teach him to sit or target my hand, that he wouldn't reliably approach me or anyone for food or anything, we can't approach him at all, etc. I also explained to her about his loose stools that he's had since he came home with me, and she decided to put him on a prescription diet in order to "reset his digestive system." He can't have any other food or treats for the next week while we work out his stomach issues.
When it came to discussing his behavior, it culminated in the vet telling me that she didn't want to medicate him because he wasn't showing any signs of aggression -- she told me how she has several fear aggressive patients that she's chosen not to medicate, and they are much worse than Sonny. I asked her how long she wanted to wait, and she said he might need to be medicated "down the line." So I told her I honestly didn't care about any other patients, that we're not here to discuss how Sonny's behavior compares to other patients, we're here to discuss the fact that Sonny's quality of life sucks, and will continue to suck since we can't make any progress training wise. I don't understand, does she want to wait until after he bites someone? Medication is not a solution to aggression, it's a training aid meant to bring Sonny's mind to a point where he's relaxed enough to actually learn to prevent him from becoming fear aggressive.... And as she forcibly pet Sonny, she told me, "he looks like he's going to be just fine," and then told me that when he's afraid, I should have him sit. Right. Because he knows how to sit, or I'm able to teach him to sit. I can't even approach the dog, let alone attempt to teach him to sit!
Then, when we were leaving, Sonny was running back and forth in his typical panicked state of mind, and I was just talking to him, "It's okay, Sonny," and "Let's go see Roxy and Buster," and "It's okay, buddy." I know ultimately if he's that afraid he probably doesn't hear me, or doesn't get any benefit from what I'm saying, but it's natural to want to console your pet. And the veterinarian told me not to do that because it was rewarding his fear. I politely told her that you can't reward fear. I don't think she expected it, to be honest. But she said she would send me the behavior evaluation and we would see about putting him on meds, but I got the impression she wasn't interested in medicating him.
Late last night, the vet emailed me information on desensitization and counterconditioning, and a tranquility protocol that was similar to Dr. Karen Overall's Protocol for Relaxation.... I wrote back letting her know I've more than familiar with d/cc due to having my own fearful dog at home, and I'm working with her on the Protocol for Relaxation right now, but that Sonny is not capable of handling any of that work at this point because he's always in an anxious state and I can't even approach him or toss or roll treats in his general direction without sending him running.
We're supposed to go back for a follow up next Thursday. I expect that once she's read my email, her mind will be a bit more open to the fact that Sonny is not going to just "be fine" and even if he would be "fine" in several months, that he will be mentally suffering in the meantime and that's unacceptable.
Even today... he was laying in the Papasan Chair, with one of his ever-so-watchful eyes open.